Fight over Meditation Center along Dog River remains in federal court. City spent more than $800k in legal fees over five years

Mobile County

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — This past January marked five years since a fight began over a Buddhist Meditation Center in Mobile. Organizers wanted to build the center at a home on Dog River. They say it’s a case of religious discrimination that’s still tied up in federal court.

Five years ago we saw a meditation protest at a meeting of the Mobile City Council. The Planning and Zoning Commission had denied an application to build the meditation center on Dog River. That’s led to a protracted battle in federal court.

“This place is very secluded, it’s going to be a meeting place for 30 people and you’d hardly think this would be a great impact on the community,” lawyer for the Meditation Center John Lawler. The plaintiffs argue they just wanted to be treated the same as other religious institutions in Mobile.

“Everyone has to be treated equally almost at every meeting, why can’t they be treated like any of these other churches?” said Lawler. A spokesperson for the city of Mobile confirmed the city has spent more than $866,000 fighting this case in federal court. The plaintiffs claim this is a simple case of religious discrimination.

“A proper resolution would be for the city to tell us what we have to do that other churches have done to get a permit,” said Lawler. Opponents have argued this meditation center would create traffic issues, impact the neighborhood, and wouldn’t fit the way the area is designed.

A spokesperson for the city reiterated that the opposition to the Meditation Center is not a religious objection but one based on planning and zoning concerns. A conference call is planned later in the week to determine the next step in this case. This is a case we’ve been following for a long time. In April of 2016 the Department of Justice sent a letter to the City of Mobile saying the DOJ was looking at the city’s zoning practices. After members of the Mobile City Council voted to deny the zoning appeal, the city filed an injunction against the Meditation Center asking them to stop hosting retreats there in 2016.

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